ANTRIM – A state agency has denied an application for a wind energy facility because it would blemish the look of the surrounding natural area, in a move the developer said could be a setback for clean energy in the state.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee voted last week not to certify a project proposed by Antrim Wind Energy LLC to build a wind farm in the northwest part of town.
After three days of deliberating, members of the committee found the project would have an “unreasonable adverse effect” on the aesthetics in the region, primarily the visual aesthetics, Michael J. Iacopino, attorney for the committee, said.
Antrim Wind had proposed building 10 wind turbines, each 500 feet tall, on privately owned land near Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain. The developer planned to sell energy produced at the 30-megawatt facility to regional buyers, according to the project’s website.
Antrim Wind is a subsidiary of Portsmouth-based Eolian Renewable Energy.
Eolian CEO Jack Kenworthy said the company was disappointed by the decision. The company felt the project had gone a lot further than other projects to mitigate the visual effects of the wind turbines, including using radar-activated lighting and forming a swath of permanently conserved land around the facility, he said.
Because of its large size, the project has been under the jurisdiction of the Site Evaluation Committee since 2011. The committee is made up of regulators from various agencies. In November, the committee had 11 days of hearings where parties discussed the project’s anticipated effects on regional development and environmental issues.
The Antrim Board of Selectmen supported the project for its tax revenue, but also because there were several residents who felt the wind farm could be Antrim’s contribution to clean energy, Selectmen Chairman Eric F. Tenney said.
In their support of the project, selectmen were simply representing what the majority of Antrim residents said they wanted to do, but this decision won’t disrupt day-to-day business in Antrim, Tenney said.
“In the big scheme of things if you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, well then the town of Antrim is still going to be here,” he said.
The committee members discussed possible conditions that would address their concerns, including requiring Antrim Wind to obtain more conservation land or eliminate some of the turbines, but ultimately the committee decided conditions weren’t enough to ease their worries, Iacopino said.
The committee also brought up concerns on the first day of deliberations with the developer’s financial capabilities to complete the project, though the committee ultimately turned down the project on a 6-3 vote because of the visual concerns.
Kenworthy said it’s not uncommon for financing for energy projects to be dependent on receiving permitting. He believed Antrim Wind demonstrated that it could handle a condition requiring the company to demonstrate that financing was in place before starting construction.
The committee will issue a written order in about a month, after which the applicant has 30 days to apply for a rehearing. Antrim Wind is waiting to read the written order before deciding how to move forward, Kenworthy said.
“This is a project that had a tremendous amount of clean-energy benefits and economic and job benefits for New Hampshire, so we’re hopeful we can find a way to keep the project moving, but we have to see what the written order says,” he said.
This is the first time the committee has flat-out denied a project, so Antrim resident Charles A. Levesque, who attended the deliberations, said he was surprised when he heard the decision.
He’s felt since the beginning of the debate over the wind farm that the overall benefit to Antrim residents wasn’t clearly demonstrated, and it seems by the committee’s decision that the state felt the same way, he said.
Antrim Wind would have paid the town $11,250 per megawatt, or $337,500 for the first year of operation, according to a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement selectmen approved in June. The amount per megawatt will increase 2.5 percent each year for a total expected payment of about $8.6 million over the 20-year agreement.
Levesque and four other residents filed a lawsuit in August against the selectmen for alleged Right-to-Know violations when they had meetings to determine the details of the PILOT agreement. That suit has a court date in early April, Levesque said.